How do we measure ‘success’ in pioneer ministry? (Annie Kirke)

Annie Kirke asks how we measure 'success' in pioneer ministry.

I was one of the first group of Ordained Pioneer Ministers to train in London as part of a former partnership between Westminster Theological Centre, St Mellitus and Ridley Hall.

Advisers at my Bishops' Advisory Panel have since told me that they weren't sure if I had what it would take to pioneer.

They've also confessed that they weren't sure what it would take at all as they didn't then have the selection criteria for Ordained Pioneer Ministry that Graham Cray and others have since developed in relationship with Ministry Division of the Church of England. They only had criteria to select parish priests. They had to take a risk, a step of faith.

I was ordained priest in the diocese of London four years ago and, as I continue to follow the missionary spirit, I have been thinking about the three main things that I have learnt from my pioneering experience so far – things that I most want to take with me into the future:

  1. incarnational mission is rooted in practicing the Presence of God and being led by him;
  2. disciple-making involves practical, missional orthopraxy;
  3. incarnational mission involves the support of people of peace at the core of the established church.

Practicing the presence of God

In the first year of my pioneer post as I looked to develop missional communities in London, I faced so many questions, expectations, challenges and negative reactions from people – usually church leaders – as to what I was beginning to do. In comparison, most non-Christians were really excited by the prospect of missional communities!

When you stripped away the initial interest most church leaders had two questions:

  • how was what I hoped to do 'church?'
  • what were my metrics for measuring success?

In response to the first question, I find Jesus' Commission in Matthew 28 to his earliest followers to be a compelling argument for our focus as clergy today to be on disciple making that leads to church forming rather than planting churches to then make disciples.

Beneath the second question, it was clear that – to some – clergy success could be measured according to money, size of congregation or building. As a result, some clergy were burnt out and exhausted from literally competing – or being compared – with large, lively, urban, network churches which could be perceived to be the benchmark of success.

But I believe that when we measure 'success' in this way, we're leading and discipling poorly. Incarnational ministry requires a daily choice to lay down our lust for personal success and positional power for a relationship with the Son rooted in his example of complete humility and obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit.

Does this mean we jettison the notion of evaluating our fruitfulness as God's missional people? Not at all! In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch rightly points out that the church that Jesus intended

…was specifically designed with built-in, self-generative capacities and was made for nothing less than world-transforming, lasting, and, yes, revolutionary impact.

World transforming and revolutionary impact – now those are new measurables worth considering! What about if we measure disciple-making and maturation and its transformational impact in the world not just amongst ourselves?

As new measurables for professed and unprofessed disciples I would suggest that we look for signs of a growing, mature faith in God, leading to a tangible Christ-likeness in attitude and behaviour. Further commitments would be to:

  • discovering how God has uniquely made and called each disciple to partner in his redeeming and renewing Kingdom work and obedience to pursuing this with the support of the body of Christ;
  • exercising faith in everyday life, making Christ known through words, works and wonders to demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom in homes, work places and community spaces;
  • practicing hospitality and table fellowship with neighbours, colleagues and local community – not just other Christians;
  • sharing possessions and money with those in need in both the body of Christ and the wider community
  • care of creation.

Practical missional orthopraxy

There is a generation of church-crawlers out there who may not be committed to any one Christian community but consuming at several. We can blame our consumer culture and mindset but as leaders we have to hold up the mirror to ourselves and ask, 'Have we created a consumer model in our church congregations?'

Many of us are working really hard at making our worship and teaching each Sunday as attractive and relevant as we possibly can without considering if this is exacerbating the consumer mentality of disciples.

The problem seems to be that biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy have been divorced by our model of church. Jesus taught his disciples around a table, on mission, on the road or the hillside. In other words, mission accompanied teaching and vice versa.

As well as supporting pioneers of missional communities in London, I coordinate Westminster Churches Winter Shelter (WCWS) with six churches and the West London Day Centre. What happens in the shelter is what I've seen in missional communities when people's faith is lived out in community and service of other. As disciples model the servant-leadership and love of Christ, the guests imitate.

People of peace at the core of the established church

I think the 'new wine' that's emerging requires a new wineskin or an apostolic environment in which to thrive.

Therefore, pioneers need people of peace within the institutional corpus of the Church of England who understand and support what is required for this to develop and mature. I have been extremely fortunate over the last three years in the support that I have received from the Diocese of London. However as missional communities and new expressions of church emerge, I see the need for practical and financial support for sustainable incomes, affordable housing, social entrepreneurship and community focused initiatives which will build the apostolic environment necessary to continue.

Rowan Williams has said that God is renewing His church from the edges. I pray that, as he does, he will raise up men and women at the centre of the established church with the courage and imagination to pursue the resources needed to lay the pipelines for resources to flow from the centre to the edges and vice versa.

In turn, those of us on the edges have a responsibility to communicate and – at times – challenge the established church to release what is needed for the Kingdom to grow and to partner with the people of peace within it to see it accomplished.